Dash (2022)

Milly (Alexander Molina) is about to shoot himself in the foot. Even as he listens on his phone’s speaker to an intimate voicemail from his heavily pregnant girlfriend Emily (Monette Moio) declaring her love for him, he is getting a hand job in the front seat of his car from prostitute Kalli (Audra Alexander), and then pays Kalli cash for a large packet of drugs that he wants to start selling to make ends meet. Kalli can see the self-destructive trouble that is coming. “There’s other ways of getting the money, you know, this is like a zero-sum business that you’re fucking with,” she warns Milly. “All your actions have consequences, man. Just because you can’t see ‘em, doesn’t mean that they’re not fucking shit up elsewhere.” The rest of Dash will show this principle playing out in real time, as Milly’s different double-dealings will catch up with him over one long dark night of the soul.

Writer/director Sean Perry’s feature is named Dash for several reasons. First, it is where the camera is fixed throughout in the car that Milly drives, intimately recording face-on his nocturnal odyssey across Los Angeles in a single, unbroken take. Second, it is the name of the Uber-like ridesharing service for which Milly gigs – and the presence of the company’s logo in gaudy mauve between the driver’s and front passenger’s seat means that this is a rare film whose title is clearly visible on screen for much of the duration. While the camera never moves, the car certainly does – and the visual business is varied not only by the different fares picked up by Milly, but by Milly and his clients’ text messages, whose content is superimposed on the screen so that we see the private conversations behind their public faces. As the car’s interior is illuminated by reflections from LA’s neon outside, Milly may be defined by his mobility, yet he is on a road to nowhere.

While negotiating a contradictory course between mother(-to-be) Emily and whore Kalli, Milly is also intimately involved with a woman listed on his phone as ‘My Favorite Prostitute’ (Paige Grimard) – but who is clearly rather more than that. Caught and conflicted over these different women in his life and his own drives, and reaching the point where he is letting slip the balls that he has been so carefully juggling, Milly must also contend with Jenny (Shah Granville), who has just OD’d in the car on the drugs that he has sold her, and whose body he has had to hide in the boot. The scene riffs on the overdose sequence from Pulp Fiction (1994) – and in case the reference is missed, Kalli will tell Milly over the phone, “You play with fire, you’re gonna get burned,” essentially quoting Tarantino’s film. Dash too takes the viewer along for a criss-crossing narrative ride, as the different relationships that Milly has so far managed to keep apart will inevitably, destructively intersect.

The rideshare is the perfect place for worlds to collide. Here a gay man (Nick Laughlin), his husband (Casey Hanley) and their bit on the side (Donell Foreman) can ride with a philandering heterosexual; two young text-happy women on molly (Kate Marley, Alexa Vellanoweth) can fart in the backseat of, and sexually assess, an older man; Nebraskan tourists (Lize Johnston, Paul Natonek) can try gormlessly to ingratiate themselves with a native Los Angeleno; a drunken off-duty cop (writer/director Perry) can share a vehicle with a would-be dealer; and a man can find himself awkwardly occupying the same tight interior as his wife and lover simultaneously. So like Glenn Payne’s Driven (2019), Michael Dowse’s Stuber (2019), Eugene Kotlyarenko’s Spree (2020) and Brad Baruh and Meghan Leon’s Night Drive (2021), Dash uses the inner spaces of a rideshare as the locus where private meets public, communication meets loneliness, and multiple lives cross in unexpected, transient combinations.

Running through these encounters is the theme of parenthood’s imperfect, often precarious nature. Kalli, Jenny and the off-duty cop Brock all have young children at home whom they love more than anything and who – to greater or lesser degrees – anchor their wild ways. Emily’s motherhood is very obviously impending, like a ticking time bomb for Milly as the truth must inevitably out – and while Milly’s errancy has led to her pregnancy, his own impending fatherhood drives him on a downward spiral of bad decisions, and perhaps on a path to a kind of healing. Dash is a technical tour de force, and a tense, funny trip through darkness to an end which, while offering some hope amid all the despair, feels plausibly provisional rather than pat. Meanwhile, a mid-credits coda shows how the consequences of Milly’s rash actions, in his simultaneous dash towards and away from responsible paternity, will just keep on rolling.

strap: Sean Perry’s one-take claustrophobic comedy thriller tracks a double-dealing rideshare driver on a long dark night of the soul

© Anton Bitel